Difference between Sutras and Tantras

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Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Tiger » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:15 pm

I am familiar with Sutras (and Suttas), but not much with the Tantras. In what way are both different from each other?

1. Are Tantras exclusively like training manuals of various Yogic and ritual practices unlike Sutras which contain both practices as well as metaphysical, moral and general discussion of Buddhism?

2. Tantras are meant to be secret where as Sutras are meant to be open?

There are basically two theories about the origin of tantras from two perspectives : historical and mythical. The historical origin of Tantras point to Hinduism or proto-Hindu-Shamanism with a gradual adoption of Tantric methods into Buddhism by some monks and lay Buddhists to win over rival religions. This was a common tactic in the historical times for one religion to usurp another religion's traditions and color them in its own philosophy to win over new converts from the other religion. Hinduism did the same with Buddhism by calling Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu who had come to delude the demons away from holy Vedas.

The second theory about origin of tantras is of course that it was composed by other beings (Buddhas, Dharma-protectors, Vajrasattvas etc) and the tantras literally drop from the sky or was revealed in visions. Frankly, considering the logic in elaborate historical analysis about the origins of Tantra from pre-Vedic shamanism, it seems pretty difficult to believe that this myth is in fact correct.
How do you Vajrayanists reconcile with this fact?
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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:26 pm

Tiger wrote:I am familiar with Sutras (and Suttas), but not much with the Tantras. In what way are both different from each other?

1. Are Tantras exclusively like training manuals of various Yogic and ritual practices unlike Sutras which contain both practices as well as metaphysical, moral and general discussion of Buddhism?


No, tantras also present metaphysical, moral and general discussions of Dharma.


2. Tantras are meant to be secret where as Sutras are meant to be open?


Yes, because they also contain yogic methods and teachings which must be transmitted in certain specific ways since tantric practice is based on a very specific view of the human body and its role in liberation.


How do you Vajrayanists reconcile with this fact?


I guess if I had decided that the Western historiographical approach to Indo-Tibetan relgious history was definitive I would be a bit worried. As I have not, and am not likely to, I can read Indo-Tibetan relgious history as framed by western scholars with interest without it impinging my interest in the study and practice of Dzogchen.

Western academic studies of Hinduism and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism are often grotesque examples of colonial bias in action. The whole anxiety of Western and Westernized Buddhists (especially in Western neo-Theravada) about "Hinduism" quite frankly is a result of this colonial bias against Hinduism, just as your post betrays.

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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Yudron » Mon Sep 17, 2012 9:58 pm

FYI “Vajrayanist” is not a word. You could say “a Buddhist who practices the Vajrayana,” or a “Vajrayana practitioner.”

The Vajrayana and Dzogchen emerged in India the early centuries of the common era before being exported to various Himilayan kingdoms, most impressively Tibet. Unlike the Chinese, Tibetans were poor keepers of historical records during that early period. They did really well at preserving religious texts and monuments (until the destruction of the 1950’s and 60’s.) Periodically there are more ruins or texts unearthed in India, Afganistan and Pakistan, and the archeologists are able to glean a little bit more about early tantra have a short time to look at them before they are stolen, defaced or destroyed by hungry, greedy or hostile people.

Sadly, they can’t dig up Vajrasattva, only stone images of Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva is the full blossoming of one’s own Buddha nature in the visage of a being of white translucent light. It’s not somebody some place. Vajrasattva is here today as much as he was present for Garab Dorje—the first human practitioner of Dzogchen. Same for Vajrapani, and Vajradhara… they are alive and well.

For the most part our religious histories of the origins of tantra and Dzogchen aren’t hard to have faith in. After a thousand years, sometimes the dates are a bit off, and a number of lineage holders have dropped into the background while the best of a whole century or generation of adepts may be exemplified by one figure. Pretty impressive that we know anything!

Buddha was born in India, not in New York, and it is a given that Buddhism –both sutra and tantra--incorporates Indian perspectives of the time. The sutras are replete with assumptions that are very foreign to people raised in a Judeo-Christian culture. We don’t actually have many Indian tantras properly translated into English yet. We mostly hear about them second hand through our lamas, or now-a-days in the back of Ph.D. dissertations. These texts, too, address an audience of ancient Indians. Rich, profound, symbolic; how fortunate we are to even come in contact with them at all in this modern shallow materialistic culture!
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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby lobster » Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:42 am

useful words from yudron :namaste:

People, times and needs change. The pre-western tantra and sutra still contain working but often culturally (for Westerners) irrelevant baggage.

Give it time . . . a few hundred years should sort it . . . :smile:
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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Tiger » Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:13 pm

Why were the western academic scholars biased against Hinduism alone, not Buddhism? I will have to search sacred-texts website again, but I read in the preface of a translation that the English scholar had done the translation while seeking help of a Pandit from Benaras, the sacred city of the Hindus. And he honestly mentioned about the apparent bias and malice that the Pandit held for "Buddhist doctrine" while considering the text to be of heretic origins. So the Brahmins were biased against Buddhism as much, if not more, as the western scholars as your claim.

Many Hindus believe that Hinduism has been existing since the beginning of times and Vedas are eternal. Should we believe in this myth or the elaborate scholarship based on the history of both the Aryan cultures of Zoroasterism and Vedicism or the myth that Vedas were eternal were always present in India since the beginning?
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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Tiger » Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:22 pm

Malcolm,

Your post shows more similarities between Tantras and Sutras than differences. Why were the Tantras called "Tantras" instead of "Sutras"? Their format is similar to the Sutras and they contain discussions on Dharma, practices, moral discussions etc just as Sutras do.
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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Tiger » Thu Sep 20, 2012 1:25 pm

Here, Malcolm, this is the Translator's not of Vajra-Suchi, that I was referring to, which shows that Brahmins usually were prejudiced heavily against Buddhism.

A few days since my learned old Bauddha friend brought me a little tract in Sanscrit, with such an evident air of pride and pleasure, that I immediately asked him what it contained. "Oh, my friend!" was his reply, "I have long been trying to procure for you this work, in the assurance that you must highly approve the wit and wisdom contained in it; and, after many applications to the owner, I have at length obtained the loan of it for three or four days. But I cannot let you have it, nor even a copy of it, such being the conditions on which I procured you a sight of it." These words of my old friend stimulated my curiosity, and with a few fair words I engaged the old gentleman to lend me and my pandit his aid in making a translation of it; a task which we accomplished within the limited period of my possession of the original, although my pandit (a Brahman of Benares) soon declined co-operation with us, full of indignation at the author and his work! Notwithstanding, however, the loss of the pandit's aid, I think I may venture to say that the translation gives a fair representation of the matter of the original, and is not altogether without some traces of its manner.



http://www.sacred-texts.com/journals/jras/tr03-08.htm
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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Malcolm » Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:07 pm

Tiger wrote:Malcolm,

Your post shows more similarities between Tantras and Sutras than differences. Why were the Tantras called "Tantras" instead of "Sutras"? Their format is similar to the Sutras and they contain discussions on Dharma, practices, moral discussions etc just as Sutras do.



"Yes, because they [tantras] also contain yogic methods and teachings which must be transmitted in certain specific ways since tantric practice is based on a very specific view of the human body and its role in liberation."

Additionally, the tantras teach a view of emptiness that is more profound than sūtra.

M
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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Malcolm » Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:12 pm

Tiger wrote:Here, Malcolm, this is the Translator's not of Vajra-Suchi, that I was referring to, which shows that Brahmins usually were prejudiced heavily against Buddhism.



Brahmins were indeed intellectually biased against Buddhism, but their bias was not colonial. Western bias against Hinduism is colonial, and not intellectual. In other words, Hindu problems with Buddhism are based on Buddhist denials of a creator and so forth. Western problems with Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism have to do with what Westerners see as grotesquery in Hinduism and Tantra Buddhism, and the bias against both Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism has everything to do with Protestant reactions to the British and German encounter with Indian culture in the early nineteenth century; reactions and attitudes that to this day still infect unbiased study of both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Bon, Taoism, Shinto, etc.

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Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

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Re: Difference between Sutras and Tantras

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:19 pm

Tiger wrote:There are basically two theories about the origin of tantras from two perspectives : historical and mythical. The historical origin of Tantras point to Hinduism or proto-Hindu-Shamanism with a gradual adoption of Tantric methods into Buddhism by some monks and lay Buddhists to win over rival religions. This was a common tactic in the historical times for one religion to usurp another religion's traditions and color them in its own philosophy to win over new converts from the other religion. Hinduism did the same with Buddhism by calling Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu who had come to delude the demons away from holy Vedas.


This is problematic because "Hinduism" is an European invention from the last two centuries or so. It is a blanket term for all forms of Indian polytheism. The Republic of India uses the term now in an official context, but historically there was no "Hindusim" in the period you are speaking about. Nobody identified as such and it is just a modern projection into the past and quite anachronistic at that.

In-between Jainism, Vedic traditions and Buddhism there was a lot of cross-over. There were plenty of Brahmans who became eminent Buddhist monks since Brahmanism was as much a social class as it was a proper religious tradition to that class, though as Buddhists they could still retain their Brahman status and all the subsequent privileges.
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